I was in Carson California last month at their City Council meeting to speak on behalf of the resolution I asked them to pass to approve participating in a feasibility study on community choice aggregation (CCA).
Carson was the sixth city to have our resolution on their agenda, the five others having already passed it. Like in each of the other cities, someone in Carson, this time the City Manager, had the same question for me,
“I understand all the CCA program stuff you’re telling us about Joe, but what I don’t get is what’s in it for YOU?”
That’s what someone always asks when I pitch them our South Bay Clean Power initiative, especially when they find out I’m doing this work full time. They want to know who is paying me.
When you work pro bono, turn down all job and consulting offers on the issue, and say “no,” to $18,000 a month gigs offered you by people in this growing field, people get real suspicious and uneasy.
I gave the Carson City Manager what has now become my standard reply.
“What’s in it for me?” I asked, “Cleaner air and water, buying a few more years before the climate shit hits the fan, a less guilty conscience about the civilization I’m leaving behind for my friends Taylor and Justin, Charlie and Matt, Alex and Walker, all of whom are in their 20s…”
Then the questioner, whoever they are, looks incredulous and says something like, “So you’re not making ANY money from anyone for doing this?”
And I tell them, “I already made my money.”
It shouldn’t be that hard to understand. There is no doubt that my fate is to be part of the first generation in American history to leave behind a future radically worse than the one that was gifted to us.
That’s unacceptable to me.
How am I supposed to look anyone under 40 years old in the eye unless I do everything I can to buy them some more time and stave off the worst of what’s coming?
Moving cities and counties to action on Community Choice Power is the most effective and rapid difference I can make. And so that’s what I do every day.
And then there is the issue of climate justice which motivates me more than any amount of money ever could.
Sure I’m a white guy and a card carrying member of the Lucky Sperm Club, but my family roots connect me with the struggles of a broader community with whom I share deep kinship.
Because my father’s father was an illiterate Italian illegal immigrant who drove a truck in New York City his entire career, all undocumented workers are my family.
Because my father’s mother was a Romanian Jew, an illegal immigrant, who fled to America to escape World War II, all Jews and all refugees on the run are my family.
Because my mother’s father was an Irish Catholic bartender in Belfast, Northern Ireland before he moved to Hell’s Kitchen in New York City where he lived a life of depression, alcoholism and despair, all troubled people who struggle mentally and psychologically to get through each day are my family.
Because my mother’s mother also came from Belfast, where as a young girl my grandmother snuck weapons into prisons for IRA members, all occupied and revolutionary people, who stand up against the greatest odds are my people and my family.
And because my mothers brother, for whom I am named, he who has been known by his Gaelic name as a renowned poet of Belfast, Northern Ireland for many decades now, my uncle who came out of the closet in the middle of his life, long before anyone knew what gay, lesbian, or transgender rights were, all gay men and women and all those who struggle with their sexuality and how society tries to define and restrict them are my brothers and sisters and my family.
Then there is the black sheep of my fathers side of the family, my Great Uncle Luigi Galleani, the relative who caused us to change the way we spell our name.
Here is what Wikipedia says about him:
Luigi Galleani (Italian: [p]; August 12, 1861 – November 4, 1931) was an Italian anarchist active in the United States from 1901 to 1919, viewed by historians as an anarchist and insurrectionary anarchist. He is best known for his enthusiastic advocacy of “propaganda of the deed”, i.e. the use of violence to eliminate “tyrants” and “oppressors” and to act as a catalyst to the overthrow of existing government institutions. From 1914 to 1932, Galleani’s followers in the United States (known as i Galleanisti), carried out a series of bombings and assassination attempts against institutions and persons they viewed as class enemies. After Galleani was deported from the United States to Italy in June 1919, his colleagues are alleged to have carried out the Wall Street bombing of 1920, which resulted in the deaths of 38 people.
Because of Great Uncle Luigi, all revolutionaries and crazy anarchists are part of my family, whether I’m ashamed of them or not.
This is the family tree from which I come.
My mother and father met in Hell’s kitchen in the mid-1950s. He an Italian Jew, she an Irish Catholic. Neither of them with any money, any education beyond high school, or any connections. But they were able to provide me, my sister and my brother with the kind of childhood that was the epitome of the American dream.
And because my parents cared more about eduction for their children than almost everything else, they moved us from our apartment in Brooklyn in 1968 when I was 11 to bucolic Westfield, New Jersey.
I had every possible tool and resource and opportunity. Music, theatre, sports, after school jobs, travel. I had teachers who cared and were given whatever they needed to help make us our best. I grew up in a safe and nurturing world at a time in Westfield that was very similar to the world you see in American Graffitti.
I was told and taught that I could be and do anything I could dream of and I believed it. And that’s exactly the life I have enjoyed, moving to Southern California within a year of graduating high school in New Jersey.
I started as a starving actor, became a starving writer and then I found Mattel and literally learned the toy business from the bottom up. Starting there at the original Hawthorne location as a temp worker in 1985 sweeping the basement and running boxes from one building to another and ending in 1999 as their top freelance writer/creative director and co-creator of their Street Sharks male action toy line.
I had a blast the whole time with one incredible experience after another here in Southern California, in New York, and so many other places around the USA.
After many years of writing, creative direction, product development and brand building, I spent the last few years of my career working at CBS EcoMedia – first as a freelance writer and then on staff as Director of Strategic Partnerships and Public Affairs.
I’ve earned great money for over 30 years using nothing but my brain and wits for clients like Hewlett Packard, Sony Playstation, 20th Century Fox, Universal,Studios, GTE Imagitrek DOW Chemical, Tyco Toys, Playmates Toys, Tangle Toys and NBA2K.
I’ve been married for 34 years, we’ve traveled together anywhere we’ve wanted to go, lived in the nicest house and neighborhood anyone in the history of my family has ever lived in and if we didn’t know what was coming our way from climate change we would be making grand plans for retirement.
Nowhere else and at no other time in history could someone like me, with no college education, no family connections or inheritance, start at the very bottom as a wanna be and work his way up to the life I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy.
At 57 years old I am able to spend my time working pro bono on the issue I care most about and damned if it isn’t climate change and trying to slow it down enough to buy our younger generations a little more time to come up with the magic bullet they are going to need to avoid the worst hell and high water that is without a doubt already headed their way.
Bummer for them that they turn out to be in the Unlucky Sperm Club of people born at the wrong part of the hockey stick graph timeline.
It KILLS me that we are going to stick the kids with the mess we made and the trash we didn’t clean up from our nonstop baby boomer party from 1946 to present day. It maddens me that the vast majority of my contemporaries are fine with that, or oblivious to it or worse yet, complicit as sellouts to the fossil fuel industry. Frankly I don’t know how they even look themselves in the eye when they gaze at themselves in every mirrored surface they pass.
So what’s in it for me?
How can anyone even ask me that?